A Tory demand for complex fraud trials to be decided by an ‘expert panel’ of
accountants and other professionals was rejected by the Government as it forced
legislation ending the right to a trial by jury through the Commons.
The proposal was put forward by Conservative shadow Attorney General
in an eleventh-hour bid to retain some separation between the tasks of
deciding guilt or innocence on the facts of a case and dealing with points of
Grieve said what would amount to special juries would be drawn from bodies
such as the Institute of Chartered Accountants, the
Society of Actuaries
and others with knowledge of financial documents.
He said members could be drawn from among those who had taken early
retirement who ‘would have the sagacity, wisdom and time to do the work and
would be willing to do it’ and he made it clear that a government concession on
the lines he proposed would enable the Tories to back the bill and get it
through the House of Lords, amidst speculation that peers traditionally jealous
to preserve civil liberties will reject the measure, facing the government with
the need to wait a year and force it through, using the Parliament Act to
over-ride the Lords’ veto.
The proposal appeared to have the support of rebel Labour MPs but was flatly
rejected by Solicitor General
O’Brien , who claimed there would be a risk that their private
views would influence the way they judged the evidence without prosecutors or
the defence having the opportunity to comment.
He said it was ‘unclear’ how suitable experts could be found or how they
would be paid.
O’Brien said he had not claimed ordinary jurors were incapable of
understanding the arguments bin complex cases, simply that complex trials of up
to six months or a year placed a burden on an individual juror that was
He claimed there would be only half a dozen non-jury trials a year – with a
maximum of 20 – and denied this was the thin end of a wedge that would lead to
the abolition of the right to trial by jury.
O’Brien defended a government decision to move from requiring jury-less
trials to be conducted by High Court judges to include certain circuit judges as
Opponents objected that jurors in the collapsed Jubilee Line corruption case
had criticised the prosecution and the management of the trial, not the
procedure, and insisted ways could be found to reduce the length of trials
through better case management and action to prevent defence delaying tactics.
The bill received final Commons approval by 281 votes to 246, a reduced
government majority of 35 compared with a normal 67.
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